Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Prague - Vienna - Budapest: Day 3 and 4 - Prague Jewish Quarter, St. Agnes Convent and the Fortress of Vyšehrad

Love the old and new mix in Prague. HEre is an
old building that has been turned into a
shopping mall inside. Unfortunately I never
had time to explore it.
Day 3 -

We were again on our own, but that doesn't mean the day yawned empty. The Go Real Europe 120 page itinerary we were given offered suggestions to fill each and every day as well as detailed instructions and/or maps of how to get there, any transit tickets needed and then instructions to get back to our hotel.

In the morning we started with a tour of the Jewish Quarter.  This area of Prague is a huge tourist attraction even in the off-season, so you need to just relax and go with the flow. It's well worth the effort. I recommend having some local currency on you as we hit several places this day that for one reason or another didn't take a credit or debit card. USUALLY there was an ATM nearby, but you couldn't always count on it.

The Jewish Cemetery was our starting point, and I have to admit, it struck a deep chord for me emotionally. On entering, men are offered yarmulkes and everyone is asked not to take pictures. It is a matter of respect. I would also suggest women come dressed respectfully as well - nothing crazy, just a bit subdued. Everyone starts by going through a building where the walls are inscribed with names of those lost in the holocaust along with their year of birth - year of death.  It's one thing to read about this time in history books, It's another to look at name after name after name after name and realize how many were lost in just a 3 years period. From this point you walk through a cemetery filled with headstones that are strewn throughout.  I never did hear exactly what the reason for this disarray, but I am glad they left it as is. The feel of history was overwhelming.

I was not allowed to take photos here - so pulled these are stock images.


From here we proceeded to view the many buildings in the area. Again - most were packed with tourists, so you have to have patience. In general, the older synagogues were simple in decoration which I believe is traditional. Cases lined the walls in several of the buildings that offered examples and explanations on the daily life of those who lived here and their traditions.

My pictures of the Spanish Synagogue were poor so these are stock images.

One building that stood out as truly stunning was the Spanish Synagogue.  It was intricately ornate in decoration - something not seen in the other buildings. I would call the style almost Moorish. The stained glass windows and intricate embellishments make this a must see if you enjoy architecture.

The St. Agnes Convent had the same arched ceilings as our hotel.  Wasn't allowed to take
pics here, so these are stock images.
From here we took David Manley's suggestions to explore a site off the beaten path where the tourists were few and far between.  Tucked in a corner of a back road we found the St. Agnes Convent. There were only about 5-6 of us who made the trek. You have to check all backpacks and cameras are not allowed. Tickets to the exhibit are purchased on the lower floor and then it's up the stairs to the top to begin.  I expected a few religious paintings and statues when I entered, but the convent offers room after room filled with beautiful, medieval religious artwork - statues in wood and ceramic, altar pieces and paintings. In most rooms we wandered around totally alone so could stop and admire a particular piece of artwork without interruption.

Stock images from a Google search as we forgot to take photos.
Lunch this day was at a the VKolkovně Restaurant which had a small amount of outdoor seating. We were going to eat at La Casa Blu, but it was closed and just happened to wander by.  This day I tried the Chicken Schnitzel (no veal for me). It came with a wonderful potato salad. Glen had his second try at Goulash. This ended up being the best Goulash he had during our entire trip - and he tried 3 or 4 different kinds. It came with some potato patties I coveted and those unique sliced dumplings.

Google images - I was too tired to take photos at this moment.

After a bit of down time back at the hotel room - we headed off to wander around New Town for awhile and then headed back to Old Town to see if La Casa Blu was now open. It was!  This is one of the few non-smoking establishments in Prague. After several days of trying Czech food, it was nice to mix it up with a few Mexican inspired dishes accompanied by our standard pint. This day we put in serious miles walking and by this point, was so tired I can't even remember what we ordered. By the time we hit the hotel - my feet and legs were aching from all the walking that day. It wasn't long before I was out cold.

Day 4 -
Love this small ancient church at the Fortress of Vyšehrad. Notice the cool shape of the door
handle and the key hole under it in the centre picture?  To the right is a view from the
the top of the outer wall showing an old fortress wall still in place alongside newer housing.




Today we decided to jump on the Metro and visit the Fortress of Vyšehrad in the morning.  There weren't a lot of buildings to explore here which was fine as we were feeling bit burnt out on architecture. What this trip offered on a beautiful sunny day was a chance to stroll on top of the outer wall all the way around - with short side trips to see a church, an underground cavern, a cemetery with art-nouveau arcade and have a pint and a light lunch at an outside cafe (a delicious bowl of potato soup for me and a small sandwich for Glen). The grounds of the Fortress are also beautiful parkland, so you can just sit and relax if that's your cuppa.

Notice the number of family members buried in the one small grave site.
It was very common here to put these covered candles (right image) near the headstones.
They keep the wind from blowing out the flame.


On the way in I made one of my few stops to shop at a small fortress shop offering unique items with all sales going to programs integrating special needs individuals into daily life. A worthwhile goal and one I was pleased to support. Our walk was a great change from exploring the architecture and heritage of Prague and we had a chance to view new areas of the city away from the tourist sites.

A view of the Strahov Monastery on the left. On the right is Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral

One thing Glen and I try to do in every city we visit is get high enough to have a good view of the city, so in the afternoon we decided to return to Petrin Hill park and take the Funicular all the way up to the Petrin Observation Tower.  When we only went half way up the hill last time, our view was limited by the trees.  You CAN walk up the hill - and you CAN climb all 299 steps up to the top of the tower - but I would recommend you take the Funicular up the hill and then the elevator up the tower. Your energy can then be spent wandering the grounds before or after, or even walking down the hill when you are one. The tower offered a beautiful view of the city which was well worth returning for.  After we descended the elevator, we bought a tasty ice cream cone at the cafe and then wandered the grounds.  There are landscaped gardens, a hall of mirrors, a church and more if you want to explore.

On the left you can see the Danube River wandering between the 2 sides of the city and the many bridges.
On the right is a closeup of Charles Bridge. Look at how packed it is with tourists even
during the off-season!

The tram we needed picked us up right at the bottom of the Funicular and we headed back to the hotel for a bit of quiet time. On the way back we decided we had to stop and try a Trdlo. This is an heritage treat that is becoming popular again.  Raw dough is spiraled around a stick and then roasted over coals until fully baked. 4 inches pieces are cut off - rolled in a combination of sugar and cinnamon - and handed you on a napkin. It's a bit like a crusty cinnamon bun.


For whatever reason, we just weren't hungry this evening. We decided to pick up more of those local open face sandwiches (as you can see the selection was much larger this time) and also a few of the pastries our guide had recommended. This time I looked at the label for the name - they were called Kolacek.  We picked up 2 pastries in each flavour they offered: custard, pear and poppy seed. A few were consumed that night. The rest were set aside for a munch the next day.


1 comment:

  1. I have been in Prague for tree times and I am planning to go back next year again. Really love Charles Bridge which is an amazing place especially if you go there in the morning. No tourists, no crowds. When I went to Prague for the first time I found on the internet this web page http://www.etravelprague.com Great beer and food tips. I wonder why I did not think of visiting Prague sooner. Prague is a must see!!!

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